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Fed's Draft Emission Standard Not Likely to Affect New Power Plants in NJ

State already committed to building cleaner, cheaper gas-powered facilities

PSEG Power's Bergen generating station.
PSEG Power's Bergen generating station.

The Obama administration is proposing new rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, but the draft standards should have little impact on New Jersey’s efforts to promote additional generation being built in the state.

New Jersey is aggressively promoting power-plant development, a step officials and others say is crucial to lowering energy bills and increasing reliability of the power grid. Because of congestion on the grid, particularly in northern New Jersey, consumers pay more for electricity than customers in neighboring states.

The draft rule, announced by the U.S. Federal Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, will likely make it very difficult, if not impossible, for new coal power plants to be built, but that option has already been ruled out by the Christie administration in New Jersey. Power plans account for roughly one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the agency.

Gov. Chris Christie repeatedly has vowed not to permit any new coal plants in the state. The prospect is unlikely to happen anyway because new coal plants would find it difficult to compete with historically low prices of natural gas. That disadvantage would be heightened by the new EPA proposal, which would require new coal plants to capture carbon dioxide emissions and bury them underground, a technology not yet commercially feasible.

“It’s basically coal plants that will be impacted and no one is building any new coal plants,’’ said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst with Glenrock Associates in New York.

In New Jersey, the administration’s energy master plan emphasizes building new natural-gas-fired plants to meet the state’s demand for electricity, generating units that produce far less greenhouse gas emissions than coal facilities.

Those plants too, will face will face new limits on how much carbon dioxide they can spew out, but state environmental officials say New Jersey’s standards already are more stringent than the new limits proposed under the EPA draft rule.

“It’s got very little impact in New Jersey,’’ said William O’Sullivan, the director of the Division of Air Quality in the state Department of Environmental Protection. "Today, we’re there and beyond that," he said, referring to the draft EPA rule.

The draft proposal would limit new gas-fired plants to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour. In the past few years the DEP has permitted three fairly big combined-cycle natural gas plants, viewed as one of the more efficient ways of producing electricity. None of the facilities -- located in Newark, West Deptford, and Old Bridge -- would exceed the emissions limit under the draft EPA rule, according to O’Sullivan.

PSEG Power, the owner of the state’s largest fleet of power plants, said Friday both of its existing combined-cycle plants in Ridgefield and Linden would comply with the proposed standards, according to Michael Jennings, a spokesman for the company, which is owned by Public Service Enterprise Group. O’Sullivan said the company also is converting an existing unit in Sewaren to a combined-cycle plant that would comply with the new standard.

The regulations that would apply to existing power plants have yet to be proposed by the EPA, which vowed to work with various stakeholders to come up with a draft rule by June 2014.

What impact the rule will have on current coal plants in New Jersey is unclear. There are six coal fired-plants operating in the state -- one in Jersey City, two in Mercer County, two in Carney’s Point, and one in Logan Township. Many of those plants run only infrequently because of low natural gas prices, although some are capable of running on that fuel. Another coal facility, the former B.L England plant near Atlantic City is switching to cleaner-burning natural gas.

The move by EPA won praise from environmentalists.

“This rule is long overdue and is critical for our future as we see the impacts from climate change getting worse with blizzards in October, record high temperatures, and superstorm Sandy. This will not only help us reduce those impacts, but also help create jobs and grow our economy,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

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